Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

Published: 4 October 2016 (print)/4th Aug 2020 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers/Penguin Random House Australia
Pages: 320/8 hrs and 1 min
Narrator: Robbie Daymond
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★  – 1 Star

Henry Page has never been in love. He fancies himself a hopeless romantic, but the slo-mo, heart palpitating, can’t-eat-can’t-sleep kind of love that he’s been hoping for just hasn’t been in the cards for him-at least not yet. Instead, he’s been happy to focus on his grades, on getting into a semi-decent college and finally becoming editor of his school newspaper. Then Grace Town walks into his first period class on the third Tuesday of senior year and he knows everything’s about to change.

Grace isn’t who Henry pictured as his dream girl-she walks with a cane, wears oversized boys’ clothes, and rarely seems to shower. But when Grace and Henry are both chosen to edit the school paper, he quickly finds himself falling for her. It’s obvious there’s something broken about Grace, but it seems to make her even more beautiful to Henry, and he wants nothing more than to help her put the pieces back together again. And yet, this isn’t your average story of boy meets girl. Krystal Sutherland’s brilliant debut is equal parts wit and heartbreak, a potent reminder of the bittersweet bliss that is first love.

I’m sad this wasn’t a great Aussie YA because we usually do it so well. The Americanisation was disappointing when I learnt Sutherland was Australian and we missed out on a great Aussie story. I thought it was a bad American book but when I realised it was a bad book Americanised for the overseas market somehow that was somehow worse.

To get in our little slice of Australia there is a horrible stereotypical character which is absolutely painful. Sutherland should know how terrible this is for us to see the over exaggerated Australian in media and she should stop perpetuating it. It isn’t even that the narrator of the audiobook CANNOT do an Australian accent to save their life, but the dialogue Sutherland has written is so awful I kept having to pause it because it hurt to listen and I need it to stop. I couldn’t even stop and pick up my copy of the book because it’s not just the accent, I was not enjoying so much of this book and I could get through it faster listening to it.

I also find it hilarious that Murray who is so Australian it keeps being rammed down our throats, that his own parents would chastise Henry for using the word ‘bastard’. Like, give us some realism here please for the love of god.

I need to write or read a story where a teen’s favourite music is from the last 20 years and not something from before they were born. I get it’s probably easier to not date things or whatever, but if your goal is to create the Unique Girl and the Unique Boy then the fact it happens far too often diminishes that. There is another stereotype about how one kiss with a boy led Grace to come out as a lesbian and Henry’s favourite movie is Fight Club which is an interesting choice and given my opinions of Henry that doesn’t surprise me.

In a story where the word cripple is used, albeit by a character with a limp, to also have other characters wonder if it’s politically correct to mention someone has a limp was a curious contrast. It was a shock to hear the word cripple used and whether Sutherland justifies it by having a character describe themselves it still felt weird.

Grace wears typical guy clothes but it is stressed that she isn’t a tomboy. The role Grace plays is usually reserved for the boy in these types of YAs, the one who thinks the Deep Thoughts, but she is also playing her role as the Mysterious Girl that intrigues the boy who apparently has never seen another girl in his life. The self-reflection and acknowledgement of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl doesn’t stop it from being an eye roll.

Henry is a romantic and a dreamer but he is also a fool. The way Henry talks about Grace is cringe worthy and he has already put her on a pedestal because she’s so intriguing. There isn’t anything remarkable about Grace, she is a normal, sarcastic, cynical teen and the book wasn’t doing anything to work against the tropes that has Henry wanting to “save her”. One redeeming factor is when Grace quizzes Henry on why he’s never had a girlfriend, one of the first reasons he gives is he’s seventeen and I will give Sutherland credit for that being a legitimate reason.

There were other issues as well. Betrayal of trust and stalking were twice used as a joke, and despite being published in 2016 there are two problematic jokes and gays and lesbians, plus one about AIDS being funny with no sense of irony that I can discern if that’s even an excuse.

It was basically for all this combined that I did not finish this book and left at the halfway mark. I’ve read reviews that the ending is good but aside from speed running the entire second half to have some reasonable ending isn’t too appealing. I’ve read other one star reviews that explain what’s wrong with this book a lot better than I can and it’s a comfort to know there’s others out there like me. I am contemplating watching the movie to see if it’s remotely tolerable and let me see the ending without need me to finish this godforsaken book but I don’t think I care enough about this book to watch the movie. If not a summary will suffice because I couldn’t keep going even to see if there was any redemption and I have a bad feeling the movie will take away any depth these characters had.

You can purchase Our Chemical Hearts via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I (#2) by Carolyn Mackler

Published: 29th May 2018 (print)/29th May 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books /Recorded Books
Pages: 304/7 hrs and 51 mins
Narrator: Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

It’s been five months since sixteen-year-old Virginia Shreves thought her life was finally back on course: she has come to terms with who she is both inside and out, and she’s even started to rebuild her relationship with her older brother Byron, whose date-rape charge completely shattered everything.

But just as she’s getting used to the new normal, Virginia’s world turns upside down again. Sparks with boyfriend Froggy Welsh the Fourth fade, her best friend Shannon bombshells bad news, and then the police arrest Byron.

As Virginia struggles to cope, she meets Sebastian, an artist with his own baggage. The pair make a pact not to share their personal dramas. But secrets have a way of coming out, and theirs have the potential to ruin everything.

This sequel was published in 2018 so it’s clear after updating Virginia’s story Mackler felt compelled to keep the story going, either that or the compulsion for a sequel prompted a revision of the first. Either way it’s not a bad addition by any means, it’s the same characters and the tone is similar to the first book which works in its favour.

Plot wise I enjoyed that there were ongoing outcomes and consequences from the events in the first book. It’s only a few months later and it’s a nice reminder that things aren’t solved and wrapped up neatly at the end of a book. Having said that you don’t need to have read book one as the events previous are recounted fairly seamlessly, and the continuation of the story means nothing much has been happening in between.

There’s still talk around the sexual assault, and the fatphobia and body images aren’t gone which adds realism and believability to a story that previously tried to fix things a little too quickly. Previous characters return, some with more depth than before, and new antagonists bring conflict and a different type of drama.

I liked the introduction of Sebastian and how Mackler navigated it between Virginia and the bigger story. I would have been annoyed if they got close later in the book but the fact they become friends and maybe something more early on was a good distraction for Virginia and it allowed something to be only hers for a while. Of course it also allows for a bigger impact once all the secrets come out, classic storytelling. But Mackler handles it well and I liked how Sebastian and Virginia managed their relationship around the drama.

Virginia is once again shameless about her infatuations and her list. I also liked her approach to her brother and how she never really lets him off the hook for his actions. Trying to navigate that relationship now allows more growth for her, which is good as it shows there’s always more growing to do.

There are further reminders of the super-rich lifestyle as we delve into country clubs and nannies and it is very telling given how her parents react that there is a lot at stake about keeping up appearances and hoping things blow over around certain indiscretions. But overall it was an enjoyable story and satisfying to see further developments in Virginia’s story.

You can purchase The Universe Is Expanding and So Am I via the following

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The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things (#1) by Carolyn Mackler

Published: 3rd April 2018 (print)/4th May 2018 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Bloomsbury U.S.A. Children’s Books /Recorded Books
Pages: 256/6 hrs 28 mins
Narrator: Laura Knight Keating
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Fifteen-year-old Virginia feels like a plus-sized black sheep in her family, especially next to her perfect big brother Byron. Not to mention her best friend has moved, leaving Virginia to navigate an awkward relationship with a boy alone. He might like her now… but she has her doubts about how he’ll react if he ever looks under all her layers of clothes.

In order to survive, Virginia decides to follow a “Fat Girl Code of Conduct,” which works, until the unthinkable causes her family’s facade to crumble. As her world spins out of orbit, she realises that being true to herself might be the only way back.

I didn’t realise this was originally from 2003 because it felt more current but it was rereleased in 2018 as an updated version and despite never having read the 2003 version, I can definitely imagine why some of the advice and content might be not only outdate but promoting the wrong things. Given the subplot though I’d be curious to see how that was dealt with in 2003.

It’s always curious reading books set in the US because they have some very specific and weird subjects I never had in high school like Global Studies and one solely on Geometry. Rarely a mention on broader subjects, certainly this time there’s no mention of Maths, English, or simply Science. Granted Virginia goes to a posh school so maybe they’re beyond the simple subjects. There’re the usual stereotypes too of the popular kids, dorky kids, and ‘regular, I don’t fit in a group’ kids whatever that means, but you always need the outsiders to even the outsiders groups I guess.

Virginia is very confident in her lust for the baseball players, which you know, good for her. It was nice to see her unashamedly gawk at them and dream about them. But she also very unhappy at the start of the story and seeing her grow throughout is encouraging and definitely this is where a lot of the updated mentality and society changes can be seen. Mackler doesn’t fix everything, the ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ approach works to an extent but as a story showing how “the privileged girl also has problems” it has some merit but falls flat at times.

I love these absent families that don’t notice their kids are taking afternoon classes, wandering the city all day or aren’t in school. Though the way Virginia describes her parents skipping out most days and weekends it makes sense. Her family is also super rich so there’s probably a bit of parental neglect to ride on. The second house and the travelling parents isn’t something you need to read between the lines for, if it isn’t said outright it’s certainly inferred.

Content warnings for obvious things like fatphobia and bullying, but there is a subplot of Virginia’s older brother date-raping a girl which Virginia crosses a lot of lines in as well which was a weird decision to make by Mackler. There’s also self-harm and a horrible Fat Girl Code of Conduct to deal with, and while they’re addressed, the solutions and recoveries to Virginia’s problems felt rushed. Not saying there isn’t a shift in her mentality which is great, but it is a fast turn around and given how ingrained it is at the start, such a shift feels too simplified.

Despite a few flaws it is a well written story. It’s captivating, engaging, and the complexity of the material does show that people are complicated, you don’t know what other people are going through, and everybody has something their worrying about despite public appearances.

You can purchase The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things via the following

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See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon

Published: 17 May 2022 (print)/12th May 2022 (audio) Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Simon & Schuster/Simon & Schuster
Pages: 432/12 hrs and 50 mins
Narrator: Emily Lawrence
Format: Audiobook
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Barrett Bloom is hoping college will be a fresh start after her messy high school experience. But when school starts on September 21st, everything goes wrong. She can’t switch out of her Physics 101 class even after being humiliated by the awkward guy sitting next to her, and she botches her interview for the college paper. At a frat party that night, she accidentally tips over a tiki torch and sets the place on fire. She panics and flees, and when she realizes her roommate locked her out of their dorm, she falls asleep on a couch in the common room.

The next morning, Barrett’s perplexed to find herself back in her dorm room bed, no longer smelling of ashes and crushed dreams. It’s September 21st. Again. And after a confrontation with Miles, the guy from her physics class, she learns she’s not alone—he’s been trapped for months.

When her attempts to fix her timeline fail, she agrees to work with Miles to figure out what’s going on. They start skipping their classes in favour of the library and research trips that take them into the unexplored underbelly of the university and across state lines. As Barrett starts to fall for Miles, the two of them must find a way to grow and change alongside the shifting fabric of the universe. But the one question they can’t answer is what they’ll mean to each other if they finally make it to tomorrow.

I love a time loop. Give me time loop stories every day of the week and I will be one happy reader. There is something about watching people cycle through the different stages and emotions when they’re stuck in time and seeing what choices they make, how they justify their actions and their theories on how and why they became stuck in the first place that is so wonderful to read about.

Obviously readers never get stuck in time loops because I wouldn’t try to escape until I’d finished reading all the books on my shelves. It’s all robbing banks and illegal or absurd activities, never finally having the time to catch up on your reading.

I really enjoyed the narrative Solomon has created. What I love about these stories is you can experience the same day over and over but one new action, one time to change things slightly can bring about new information that you never even knew was being hidden from you and between Barrett and Miles’ stories I loved having these little snippets of their lives revealed, each having an impact at the right moment. I was intrigued that through the whole thing we never see Miles’ side of the story, which was the right choice in the end because Solomon’s reveals are timed so perfectly there was no other way.

For two people who both lamented how they had no friends and were lonely I was a smidge disappointed it didn’t stop with them becoming great friends but that isn’t what these YA stories are about, it’s about finding love and all that stuff. I’m not a total cynic, Solomon has done a great job with this story because the slow build up and the multiple loops are a great way to explore both characters and I love that there was time to explore a full range of emotions and see great character growth on both sides.

It’s classed as a YA and while both characters are still teenagers it’s their first day of college, a unique blending of their high school time and on the cusp of their new beginnings. It is a good choice because it’s a turning point from their high school selves and the start of something new, and it allows more freedom for the events in the story without limitations.

The resolution of the time loop is fantastic and Solomon never takes the easy road with answers or explanations. I loved the complexity of the story and the hints and themes running throughout that mean nothing but mean everything as well. When you get to relive the same day over and over little nothings become big somethings if you make a different decision.

You can purchase See You Yesterday via the following

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Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust | Audible

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley

Published: 1st August 2010 Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Pan Macmillan Australia
Pages: 263
Format: Paperback
Genre: Young Adult
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Lucy is in love with Shadow, a mysterious graffiti artist.

Ed thought he was in love with Lucy, until she broke his nose.

Dylan loves Daisy, but throwing eggs at her probably wasn’t the best way to show it.

Jazz and Leo are slowly encircling each other.

An intense and exhilarating 24 hours in the lives of four teenagers on the verge: of adulthood, of HSC, of finding out just who they are, and who they want to be.

Crowley has written a sweet and intriguing story of 24 hours of adventure and discovery and what I love about it is there’s established relationships so instalove isn’t a real issue given no one is professing love quite yet, but there are certainly connections and second chances.

Crowley captures the teenage friendship and interactions well, the story highlights that teens can have deep thoughts and dreams and ambitions. They aren’t just the outward persona they project to the world.

I liked the alternating points of view because it shows how the same experiences are seen through different eyes. I liked being in Ed and Lucy’s head and seeing their perspectives. The recapping on chapters was interesting. Often you’ll see with alternating voices the scene flips instantly but the small recap is repetitive but I didn’t mind because it brings a new perspective to the latest moment or event and then follows through with a new voice.

This story cemented my love for 24 hour stories. Stories and lives evolved and changed by a mere 24 hours can be so profound and powerful and Crowley does something phenomenal with this story in exploring the lives of these kids and their intricacies, passions and their friendships.

I would reread this in a heartbeat because it is short but powerful and getting to explore the city of Melbourne through the eyes of these characters again would be wonderful.

You can purchase Graffiti Moon via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

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